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  • Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism
  • Eileen M. Luna-Firebaugh
Jack D. Forbes. Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wétiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism and Terrorism. Rev. ed. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008. 234 pp. Paper, $14.95.

There comes a time in a generation when it is right and proper to review the wisdom of those who have gone before, to see through their eyes and to treasure their insights. This reissue of Columbus and Other Cannibals is just such an opportunity. It is the opportunity to hear the ideas again and to see the world anew.

Cannibals is a work of philosophy and ideas. It is not a work of history or facts. To do it justice, it must be read as a treatise, an expounding of ideas gathered over a lifetime. It is only in this way that Cannibals can be interpreted fairly.

Professor Forbes's use of the term cannibals to describe Western society in its most rampant form is intentionally off-putting. He contends that arrogance, greed, gluttony, enslavement, terrorism, genocide, and the exploitation of the earth's resources amounts to wétiko psychosis, the disease of cannibalism, and [End Page 120] is as awful as it is actual. The term wétiko comes from the Cree (for the Ojibway it is windigo, for the Powhatan wintiko) and is defined by Professor Forbes as "the consuming of another's life for one's own private purpose or profit" (24). He further contends that this psychosis is the result of the failure to follow a proper path, which for Native peoples is set forth by stories, original teachings, and tradition.

The failure to follow a proper path, one that stresses the interrelatedness of all and the willingness to put more into the world than you take out, is at the core of the problem as seen by Professor Forbes. This book stresses behavior. It emphasizes conducting oneself in accordance with a set of ideals and not with conforming to Western habits of self-involvement and self-enhancement. And he furthers his analysis with teachings from Native America, from Black Elk and Luther Standing Bear of the Lakota, Kate Luckie of the Wintu, to Xumu of the Amahuaca of Amazonia and Juan Matus of the Yaqui of Mexico. He then links these teachings of the Americas with those of other peoples who follow original traditions, including Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.

This analysis by Professor Forbes extends beyond American Indian studies. His approach examines traditions from across the globe and finds commonality among those who follow original teachings. Professor Forbes links the struggle for independence from those who would exploit the earth and the peoples of the earth with struggles for self-determination and self-actualization.

Professor Forbes then takes this analysis further, into the personal realm, and addresses the question, What can one do? And it is here that the challenge is made. To live a life in accordance with Native principles of life, with the Pollen Path of the Navajo or the Good Red Road of the Lakota, often requires sacrifice of the self. It may require denial of those things emphasized by the Western world as measures of success. It often requires dedication to a lifestyle and a philosophy of service that may not be valued by Western society. But Professor Forbes sees such dedication as essential to the reinvigoration of a Native philosophy of life, a philosophy that he regards as self-sustaining and life enhancing, one that is not at odds with the earth on which we live and the animals and plants that reside on and within this earth but rather in harmony with all.

This version of Columbus and Other Cannibals was first published in 1992, but it was preceded by a preliminary version in 1978. The book is, to some extent, a reflection of the beginnings of the American Indian Movement. At the time this work was originally published it was monumental to many who were struggling to develop a philosophy that would enhance the movements for Native studies, environmentalism, pacifism, and other ideas that were seen as out...


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